Making supply chain technology viewable and usable

Making supply chain technology viewable and usable

With more trucking companies seeking to implement technologies to provide real-time visibility throughout the supply chain, correctly addressing “usability” could save both time and money. Chris Scheele, Xtra Lease director of business technology says the implementation of Xtra’s Xpress paperless transaction service is a clear example. See Trailer lessor goes paperless

The Xtra Xpress service is made possible via a system of handheld computers coupled with Wi-Fi and Internet communications at just over 40 of the company’s 87 U.S. and Canadian branches to offer customers the convenience of receiving customizable email notifications per transaction and electronic rental agreements. Additionally, it dramatically cuts down the Xtra’s administrative work.

The major problem with developing Xpress was finding a way to implement this technology to a decentralized, aging workforce that is unaccustomed to using handheld computers and the wireless technology that drives the service.

To address this, Xtra assembled a 12-member user council— comprised of the leasing company’s own operation assistants, operation managers, branch managers, regional operations managers, and customers— and involved them in every step of the development and implementation process.

This council started with a low-tech approach. “We used the council in activities such as paper prototyping,” Scheele told Fleet Owner, explaining that for this session the council was given nothing more than pencil and paper.

“We created real-life scenarios and mocked them up on paper, and then simulated this activity before we wrote one line of code,” he said. “This approach is more flexible, with less technical resources committed, and allows users to give more honest feedback”

A properly executed combination of use cases and the paper prototyping dramatically reduced development time because it eliminated guesswork for the developer.

“That’s where a lot of companies stumble,” Scheele said. “You don’t want the developer making their own assumptions or trying to determine from their own knowledge what the best approach should be. Even the best developer in the world would fall short of expectations. And that’s a costly process because there could be a rework that needs to be done.”

Additionally, project training and implementation time and costs are also reduced because a truly user-centered system emerges. “Change management is the largest issue when deploying wireless because you traditionally have to worry about user learning curves,” Scheele explained. “With Xtra Xpress there was virtually none of that because we’re truly giving the user something that will make their work more efficient.

“Usability is a set of techniques that requires a certain amount of art, science and psychology. When you get people with different professions in a room to explain to each other what they do, they gloss over details,” he adds. “For instance, when you explain how you start your car you may simplify the process down to a few steps when in reality there are hundreds of details beyond that. The art and science is in determining how much detail you need to divulge.”

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